The Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF) is taking place at The Byrd Theatre from April 23-28, screening over 150 international films and attracting audiences seeking to experience the world through film.

RIFF 2019 began showing films Tuesday, April 23, and will continue screening until Sunday, April 28. The selection of films includes narratives, documentaries, animation, web series, music videos and an “experimental short film” category. The films vary in length, with almost every type of film including a feature film and short category.

In addition to film, RIFF also includes live music performances. This year, about 45 different music groups will perform live between film screenings. RIFF states on their website that the inclusion of musicians in the festival will act as a “platform for filmmakers and musicians to forge new working relationships.”

According to their website, RIFF was founded in 2011 by Heather Waters. The RIFF website states that the festival “brings cutting edge film & music to the beautiful historic city of Richmond, Virginia.” 

Last year, special guests including former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, Gov. Ralph Northam and Mayor Levar Stoney, as well as many prominent names in film, attended the 2018 festival, according to the website. 

Sonja Bertucci, visiting assistant professor of film studies at the University of Richmond, is a member of the RIFF Grand Jury, the body that judges every film. Although this is her first year being a part of RIFF, she said she believes film festivals like RIFF, especially the festivals in Richmond, are culturally valuable.

“Talking to different people and trying to connect, I think that’s what [RIFF] is,” Bertucci said. 

According to Bertucci, the films being screened at RIFF are all socially engaged and political. Considering the current political climate of Richmond, as well as UR, this theme seems to be a perfect fit for students, Bertucci said.  

However, she has noticed that RIFF had not been mentioned often on UR's campus. Bertucci attributed this to a heightened focus on more vocational academic pursuits, such as economics or business.

No matter the major, Bertucci still asserts that the world of film, and consequently RIFF, is worth experiencing for all students. 

“The world of cinema is a complex world where there are very talented people working with businessmen,” Bertucci said. “Cinema is a business and an art form."

Peter Lurie, the UR film studies program coordinator, elaborated on the importance of events such as RIFF for the student population. 

According to its website, the Byrd Theatre opened in 1928. Lurie said simply going to the Byrd Theatre has been a key point in Richmond culture and is an experience he recommends to all students.

Lurie also emphasized that many of the short films will not be easily accessible outside of RIFF. They will not be available on any streaming site, unlike most of the feature films.

“There’s just an awful lot that you’re not going to find in any one place,” Lurie said.

In addition, the films being screened at RIFF are not films with mass media companies backing them.

“These are films that are looking for an audience,” Lurie said. “They are newly released. They are hoping to get marketing and wider distribution."

First-year Josh Higdon acknowledged the importance of learning about different cultures through film.

“This film festival could be a great way to learn about different groups of people,” he said.

However, Higdon added that final exams are just around the corner and some UR students do not have enough time to engage in leisure activities.

Although Higdon was interested in attending RIFF, he decided against it due to a lack of transportation and the somewhat high cost, as well as his need to study for final exams. 

General admission tickets for individual films start as low as $10 per film, while a press pass granting entry into all film screenings costs $195.

Contact lifestyle writer Susanna Getis at susanna.getis@richmond.edu.